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*** This series was awarded Best Lesbian Story, as well as Most Literary/Genre Transcending Story in the 2019 Reader’s Choice Awards. Thank you to all who voted. ***

Welcome to Chapter Eight. If you’re planning on reading this but you haven’t finished chapters One through Seven, then, well… I don’t know what to tell you anymore. Come here, sit next to me and I’ll pat your knee and tell you that everything’s okay.

As usual, I’ve updated my Spotify playlist with the songs featured in this chapter. You can find the link in the contact tab of my author page.

Thanks to my editor, ThisNameIsntTakenYet, for his diligent work in making me look less dumb.

This chapter is dedicated to a dear internet friend. She knows who she is.

~~ Front Royal, Virginia, June ~~

JO

After taking the controls from Blue, Jo had flown her dad’s Bell-47 back to the farm. It was a hair-raising flight, with Jo throwing the helicopter into dives and banks, and following the path of the Shenandoah River the last couple miles a few dozen feet off the water. When she approached the farm and climbed to a less terrifying altitude, Henry insisted Blue take the controls back, wanting her to get more practice at landing. It took her a few attempts to get straight on the sled outside the hanger. She came down crooked and dusted off the first two times, while Jo sat on her hands to keep from grabbing the stick. On the third try, Blue set it down perfectly. She killed the engine and after the blades slowed to a stop, hit the remote to slide Margaret back into her home.

Just taking the controls for a short time seemed to have breathed life into Jo and she was almost bouncing as they walked back to the house. They spent a few minutes making small talk with Henry, then Jo made their excuses and nearly dragged Blue back to her cabin.

“I think someone is in a good mood,” Blue gasped as Jo pinned her to the wall just inside the door and nibbled on her neck.

“God Blue, after everything you’ve done for me since I woke up… today was… if dad hadn’t been with us I’d have taken you right there in the cockpit before the rotor had even spun down.” She pulled Blue’s shirt off. “I’m only a little mad at you for springing the Major on me like that.” She threw Blue over her shoulder and limped into the bedroom to throw them both down on the bed.

“Jo, your dad is right next door! I can see his porch from here!” she pointed across Jo’s house to the glass front door.

“Fine!” Jo got up and shut her bedroom door. “Better?” she said, whipping off her own shirt and sports bra in one motion.

Blue leaned up on her elbows, grinning. “I haven’t seen this Jo since January. I like this Jo.”

Jo had kicked off her sneakers and was busy pulling off her jeans, getting them snagged on her prosthetic. She impatiently ripped them past her foot. “You better get used to this Jo, ’cause you’re the one that’s brought her out.” She fumbled with the button on Blue’s jeans. “I like you better in dresses,” she growled as she worked them down her hips. Her eyes widened to see that her Blue Girl wasn’t wearing underwear. “And you getting me back on the stick this weekend…”

Blue giggled and said, “Which stick is that Jo? The one in your dad’s helicopter? Or the one I strapped around your hips last night?”

“You sexy little…” Jo breathed. “That’s it, incoming!” She launched herself at Blue, who squealed “Eep!” with delight.

Later, as Jo lay on her back with Blue resting her head on her shoulder, she mused, “Gotta say, I was skeptical about your ‘Jo plan’, but I’m feeling a lot better about things right at this moment.”

“That’s good,” Blue murmured, half asleep.

“What’s next on the agenda?”

“Mmmm. You’ll find out soon.”

There was a pause, then Jo said “You’re not going to spring something big on me again are you? You know I have a problem with that.”

Blue turned her head to rest her chin on Jo’s chest and look her in the eyes. “Sorry, I forgot. We have three weekends left before the beach tour. Tonight, we’re going back to D.C. You still have PT and therapy all week. But I was going to take us out on Thursday evening.”

“To do what?”

“Something you told me you wanted to do the night we met.”

“Huh. Refresh my memory?”

~~ Fairfax, Virginia, July ~~

JILL

“I don’t know why this is making me so nervous,” Jo said.

“Maybe because the Army hasn’t let you do this for the last thirteen years of your life?” I asked.

“I guess so.”

“Do you regret doing it?”

“No,” Jo said, turning her head back and forth as she looked in the mirror, “No, I think I really like it. You were right, this is cool.”

I smiled. “Megan Rapinoe’s got nothing on you baby.”

Jo’s hair was purple now, starting with a bright purple at the tips and fading to a light, whitish-purple at the roots, and styled a little more punk than normal, with the six-inch long hair on top curling down over the left side of poker oyna her forehead, the sides and back still almost buzzed tight against her head.

“Justine, Blue was right, you’re a wizard.”

“Thanks,” my sister said as she ran her fingers through Jo’s hair. She eyed Jo’s haircut critically, then picked up her scissors and clipped off a microscopic fraction of an inch off the front. “As it grows out, your natural hair color should go pretty well with the color I managed at the roots, so you should be good for at least six weeks. Don’t wash your hair for seventy-two hours. Stay out of swimming pools and hot tubs for a while if you can. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, Jill is probably as good at taking care of a dye job as I am at this point. But you’re done. Jill’s got another hour to go at least.”

I was sitting in the salon chair next to Jo’s, my hair festooned with foil strips. I was keeping the blue hair, but Justine was adding in highlights in lighter and darker blues, with the occasional streak of purple. The stylist that Dr. Samuels had taken me to in Germany had done an adequate job, but it had been fairly monochrome. My sister was making it look more… naturally blue, if that could be a thing.

“Okay.” Jo said standing up from the chair. “Do you mind if I go check out the Guitar Center across the way?” My sister’s salon was in a strip mall in Fairfax near the intersection of Fairfax and Lee Highways. We’d passed the guitar store when we’d driven through the shopping center.

“Not if you kiss me before you go.”

Jo chuckled and leaned over to plant a long kiss on me. “I’ll be back before you’re done.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you as happy as you are with her,” Justine told me when Jo had left. “She’s certainly unlike anyone else you’ve ever dated.” She was fussing with my hair while we talked.

“She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” I said.

“Good, I’m glad you guys are happy. This needs to sit for another twenty minutes, then we’ll start taking these out.”

“Justine?”

“What, sweetie?” she said, teasing the ends of my hair.”

“I’m going to marry her someday.”

Justine stopped and met my eyes in the mirror. “You asked her?”

“Oh god no, it’ll have to come from her. She’d freak the hell out if I ever brought it up first.”

“She asked you then?”

“Nope. But she will. Someday. I know it.”

Justine looked dubious. “Okay, baby sister. If you say so. Not sure she seems like the marrying kind, but you know her better than me.”

“I do know her. It feels like I’ve always known her. But that brings me to my next thing…”

“Which is?” She’d gone back to teasing my hair.

I hesitated. She stopped again and met my eyes in the mirror. “Jill, you know they won’t be interested.”

“I know,” I sighed. I felt my eyes welling up with tears. “I mean, they don’t even call me on my birthday, I have to call them. So why do I want them to meet Jo so badly?”

“Because every kid wants their parents’ approval of their partner. Even after they shut you out of their lives. I give them holy hell about it pretty much any chance I can. Honestly, I’m getting uncomfortable having Danny around them because of it.

“I just want to stand in front of them with Jo and say ‘This is the woman. The woman that’s repairing my life whole after you fractured it. The woman who’s made me happy, finally’.”

Justine leaned down and hugged me, careful not to mess up the foil strips in my hair. “Jill, I’m so sorry they’re like this. I can’t tell you not to reach out to them, but I’m not sure I’d bother trying if I were you. They’ll just hurt you more.”

“I know,” I said, sniffing. She handed me a tissue.

“I’ll always be your big sis, for what it’s worth. Tell you what, I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time, and I’m really sorry we haven’t before, but how about I host Thanksgiving this year and you bring Jo and any of her family you want. You can invite Sara and her parents too.”

“What about mom and dad?”

“I’ll tell them who’s coming and if they chose to stay home by themselves, then fuck ’em.”

“Justine!” I said, a smile peeking through my tears.

“What? Like they deserve better? You can also come over for the Fourth of July this weekend if you want to.”

“Thanks, but Jo wants to see the fireworks on the Mall. She’s never seen them in person.” I sniffed and wiped my nose again.

“I love you, Jilly-bean.”

“You too, Just-enuff.”

~~ Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland ~~

JILL

Looking back, I was a little surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

The Fourth of July weekend went by quickly. Jo handled the crowds on the Mall better than I’d expected. Even the deluge of booming explosions from the firework show hadn’t seemed to rattle her much.

The next week, I’d finished work for the day and was sitting in our suite at Reed, waiting for Jo to come back from working out with Liz so we could get ready for dinner. I’d started canlı poker oyna to pack some of our things since she was going to be discharged next week and move in with me.

As I took a break from packing, I looked over at our nightstand. There were two framed pictures there. The first was an old photo Jo always kept near. It was a jumble of faces. Henry was in the middle, with Jo and Steve on the right, Jo’s chin resting on top of Steve’s head, her apple cheeks wide and rosy, both of them pressed tight to Henry. On the other side were Larry and Suzanne. Everyone was much younger in the photo than they were now, all of them laughing like it was their best day ever.

The other photo was of Jo and myself, from our reunion in January. Just our faces and shoulders. You could tell we were naked, lying on my bed. The bite mark Jo had left on my neck was front and center and we were both giggling like mad. I don’t know what it was about those pictures, what caused me to do it just then. But as I sat on the bed, I took out my phone and stared at it.

Then I opened my contacts, scrolled through and hit the number.

It rang four times and I was ready to hang up when he answered. I gulped. I was hoping it would be mom.

“Hi daddy… How are you guys? Good… Is mom… oh. Okay, listen I’m calling because…” I gulped, took a deep breath, then said, “Daddy, I’m calling because I’ve met someone and I think she’s my forever girl, and I wanted to see if you and mom would… Daddy… No, dad, listen… Daddy, I love her. I love… Dad… Dad can I… Can I just… Dad… Dad!”

I sighed and dropped my hand holding the phone into my lap, closing my eyes tight for a moment, then put the phone back to my ear.

“Okay dad. No, no… I get it… okay… okay… Fine. Tell mom I love her. Goodbye dad.”

I was still sitting on the edge of the bed a half hour later, staring at Jo’s family photo when I heard her walk in behind me.

“Blue, I got just a text from Suzanne saying she can’t wait to see us this weekend? What the hell’s happening?” she demanded of me.

“We’re meeting the band at the farm so you guys can practice together for the tour,” I said softly, not turning around.

“Well, that’s fine, but I thought we’d talked about the ‘no surprises’ thing.” She sounded cross.

“I’m sorry Jo,” I almost whispered, “I just forgot to tell you.”

“Just remember next time, okay?”

I cracked right then. I imagined I heard the sound of a brick flying through the plate-glass window of my mind, broken shards falling in a musical rain to the ground at my feet. It took me a moment to shake off my lethargy as everything ran through my head. All the therapy sessions I’d sat in with Jo. All the stories I’d heard over the last year hanging out with the band. Hearing about how much her family loved each other. How they were all there for each other through the pain of when her mom had passed, and every day since. How they’d kept Jo from totally losing it. How Larry had been almost as distraught as Jo and Steve had been after the accident. How when they met Suzanne, Henry had accepted her like another daughter. Watching them all pull together when Jo had crashed.

And how my parents had thrown me out of their home and their lives when I told them I found someone I cared about, because she happened to be a woman. Treated me like a pariah. Barely deigning to speak to me when I called. Never evincing the slightest concern for my well-being when I did. How they had no interest in even acknowledging the fact that I might have found someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

“Did you hear me? I said remember that I don’t want you to throw surprises at me anymore.” I stood up and turned to face her. She immediately retreated a step and said, “Uh, Blue, what’s, uh, what’s wrong?”

I knew she had meant nothing by it. I knew she was blameless in what was happening in my head right that second. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t stop myself. It was like I was watching myself from outside my own body.

“Fine, Jo! I won’t handle you! I won’t go out of my way to make sure your family is there for you, and that we spend weekends at the farm with your brother and father and Larry and Suzanne! God it must be such a chore to have to deal with that! What a terrible thing to surprise you with!”

She stepped back towards me. “I’m sorry, what—”

“Don’t touch me!” I yelled and stepped around her towards the door. There were tears streaming down my face, and the room felt a hundred degrees too warm.

I threw open the door, slamming it hard against the wall. She caught my arm and said, “Blue, wait! What’s going on?!”

I spun around and threw my phone. I wasn’t aiming at her, but she had to duck anyway, and let go of my arm as my phone flew at-cross the room and shattered into pieces against the wall.

“I said don’t touch me!” I screamed and took off down the hall, almost blind from tears, oblivious to the stares of the other patients in the hallway. She’d started training on her running internet casino prosthetic, but I knew with the everyday one she was wearing now she had no chance of keeping up with me as I stumbled towards the stairwell.

I heard her calling after me as I ran down the hall, but I didn’t slow down. “Blue! Blue, stop please, I’m sorry!” Then, as I slammed open the door to the stairs, “Jill, come back, please! Jill!”

The door shutting behind me cut off her voice.

~~ Adams Morgan, Washington, DC ~~

JO

It was almost midnight and Jo was pacing back and forth on the sidewalk in front of Blue’s apartment building. She’d knocked on Blue’s door long enough one of her neighbors had finally stuck his head out in the hallway and irritability said, “Lady, she obviously ain’t there.”

She’d been in front of the building ever since, alternately pacing and sitting on the steps whenever her stump started to ache too much.

Her phone rang and she pulled it out of her jeans and looked at the caller ID.

“Justine?” she said, answering it. “Have you heard from her? Me, either… wait, here comes Sara, hold on.”

Sara and Steve pulled up to the curb in Steve’s SUV. Sara rolled down the passenger window and handed Jo a key ring.

“Jo, I’m so sorry, it took me an hour to find her spare. Have you heard anything?”

“No, and neither has Justine.”

“I know some of the places she likes to go. Steve and I will go check them out. If you hear anything or if she comes back call me right away, okay?”

Jo squeezed Sara’s hand and said, “I will, you too.” She ducked her head and looked across the car at Steve. “Thanks Bro.”

“You know it, Sis. Keep your chin up, we’ll find her.”

Jo stood there, watching them drive away until they turned the corner and disappeared from view, then remembered the phone in her hand.

“Justine, I just got her apartment keys from Sara. I’m going to go in and check it to see if there’s anything that might tell me where she could be, then I’ll hang out here until she shows up or Sara finds her. Okay… yeah, Liz is hanging at our suite at Reed in case she comes back there. Okay… thanks, Justine.” She hung up and put her phone in the pocket of her jeans, looked up at Blue’s windows on the fourth floor and muttered, “I hope she didn’t pack up and leave or something stupid.”

It was dark and silent in Blue’s apartment when she let herself in. Jo flipped on the light in the small combination kitchen and living room and looked around. Nothing looked out of order. Nothing was obviously missing.

“Shit,” Jo said to herself. She had been pacing around for a few hours outside and was feeling the effects. “Might as well hit the head while I’m here.” She muttered, then walked into the bedroom and flipped on the light.

“Jesus!” Jo yelled and jumped, grabbing the door frame to steady herself.

Blue was sitting on the floor between the bed and the wall, staring straight at Jo, expressionless, her arms wrapped tightly around her knees.

Her face was a mess, a maze of dried tear tracks and mascara on her cheeks, and her hair was wild and mussed.

“Blue! Jesus, you scared the shit out of me! Are you okay? We’ve all been looking for you!”

She said nothing. She barely blinked.

Jo walked around the bed and awkwardly knelt in front of her.

“Tell me you’re okay, that you’re not hurt.”

“I’m fine,” she whispered.

“Okay, well, we both know that’s bullshit. I assume you heard me knocking.”

She put her hand on Blue’s knee. Blue didn’t flinch, just shifted her gaze from Jo’s face to her hand.

“Justine said you had it out with your dad. She’s worried about you.”

She looked back up at Jo. “He told her?”

“Justine called your parents after I called her asking where you might go. She said your dad told you off.”

Fresh tears started running down her face. “Was he… was he worried about me?”

“Blue…” Jo sighed, “come here.” She pulled Blue closer and enveloped her an embrace, resting her cheek on top of her blue tresses. “I’m so sorry he’s an asshole.”

Blue started sobbing into Jo’s chest.

“I just want my dad to accept me for who I am,” she cried. “I want my mom to talk to me again! I want my family back!”

Jo held her tighter and waited until her crying slowed. She pulled back and tipped Blue’s chin up with her fingers. Blue blinked, squeezing a fresh river of tears out of her eyes, but met Jo’s gaze.

“Blue, I wish I could do something or say something that would make it okay, that might make them pull their heads out of their asses. But there’s nothing I can do that can make that happen.” Blue took a long shuddering breath.

“And I know I’ll never be able to fill that particular hole they’ve left in you. But Justine still loves you, she’s still your big sister. And you listen to me good, you’re a part of my family now. I know my dad thinks so. I’ve never seen him as proud of anyone as he was of you last weekend, not since he taught Steve and I to fly. Sara’s your sister in everything but blood and she’s marrying my brother. And Suzanne and Larry love you too. Hell, I think Jack would walk into fire for you, ever since you put him in that drawing you did of the band. So, they’re all your family now.”

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